PALESTINE — Question: My wife and I adopted our nephew a few years ago. He had been through a lot of bad things, including exposure to drug trafficking, before he was placed in our home when he was four. We thought we could just love the negative out of him, but that does not seem to be working. Now he is a pre-teen and is having all kinds of anger issues against us and showing some open rebellion. We have never been anything but good to him, and now we feel as if he is turning on us. We are at a loss and are wondering if we made a terrible mistake in adopting him. Is there any hope for our turning this situation around?
Answer: Children who have been through the trauma you described usually need extensive counseling. While taking a child out of a bad situation and giving him a good life is a wonderful start toward a better future, that act alone will not erase the past. The past needs to be dealt with and put to rest.
Think of your child’s emotions and mind as a garden. Whatever is planted in a garden will eventually sprout and produce fruit. Even though you have planted good seed in your child, he had plenty of bitter weeds planted before you got him. Those bitter weeds need to be uprooted one-by-one. While I believe the Lord does deliver from bad pasts, He often uses good Christian counselors to facilitate the deliverance. I highly recommend that you connect with someone who has a special love for troubled kids and can build a rapport with your child in order to help him.
Meanwhile, you can become proactive by starting to talk with your son. It appears that one of the bitter weeds planted in him is anger. Often, children caught in your nephew’s situation will suppress anger toward the birth parents who failed them. Then, they will project that anger upon the adoptive parents, no matter how good the adoptive parents are to them. This might explain why he is angry with you.
Instead of reacting to his anger with your own anger or stricter disciplinary measures, try talking to him about the reasons for his anger. Too many parents of troubled children wait for them to initiate conversations about past pain. Unfortunately, most kids don’t know how to initiate conversation about how they feel. Instead, they act out their stuffed emotions. Therefore, don’t be shy about beginning a conversation. Don’t put words in his mouth, but think about using some conversational templates such as: “My birth parents were into drugs. They abandoned me. Now I feel _______ about this.” Allow your son to fill in the blank. After a season of using these type templates, you will find that your son will begin to open up more and more about what is troubling him. Furthermore, explain to him that it’s important for us to talk about our feelings, rather than react from them.
Initiating conversations about the past along with regular sessions with a counselor will place your son on a path that will lead to his deliverance. However, the bitter weeds planted in your son’s heart were not placed there overnight, and they will not be removed overnight, either. The journey to wholeness will most likely take several years. Nevertheless, they will be years well-spent.
Don’t give up! Your hard work and tenacity will one day reap miraculous results. Keep praying and persevering! Remember, “God will make a way where there seems to be no way” (Don Moen).
The author of 54 books, Debra White Smith holds an M.A. from U.T. and is the featured relationship specialist on the Fox News Radio Show, “Plain Jane Wisdom.” She and her husband, Daniel, co-pastor Palestine Church of the Nazarene. For more information, visit www.debrawhitesmith.com. Got a problem? E-mail Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org